All teachers know about it, perhaps especially at the college level. There is the mystery of class chemistry--why some groups of students come together in a cohesive and friendly unit and others never connect--but beyond that, there is a necessary critical mass of intellectual wattage that can make an enormous difference to class discussion. In classes where there are enough students to generate the wattage, even those with slightly less candle power glow more brightly. When there aren't enough minds in the room, nothing ever really shines.
Today was case in point--and it was just today (and Monday), as in the earlier 102, two of the three best students were absent. The one real intellect in the room was stifled by the lack of juice generated by the rest of the students, and we never got to observations in talking about the novel, only the most superficial of questions.
However, in the later section, the best minds were present (unless I'm forgetting someone, but I don't think I am). There were five or six students who are getting it, so we were getting into the deeper waters--and it was great to see the other students start to fire up a little.
In both classes, I asked them what (if anything) I could do to help them in reading the novel--and ultimately, in both classes, the consensus was that they just need to keep plugging away at it in the faith that, as Le Guin put it, "sense will be made." Fair enough. I did remind them that the online materials are there to help them; we'll see if they start making better use of them.
Mostly, though, I hope that slowing down a little allows them to absorb better. One student expressed real dismay that I'm not holding conferences as I did for the first essays--but she was relieved when I said she could still meet with me; I just wouldn't cancel class for meetings. I'll be interested to see how many students want to see me; there won't be much time for meetings, but I'll accommodate as many as I can.
Meanwhile, I have once again filled my "weekend bag": the tote I use to carry student work and my editor's desk home over the weekends. I filled it last night, too: last night, 102 essays (which look more daunting than they are, though they're still daunting enough); tonight, reading notes from all three classes and the SF essays. I don't know how disciplined I'll be about actually doing the work, but I'm hoping that I end up being happy I schlepped it all home instead of realizing on Sunday night that it might as well have stayed in the office.
And now, I am ridiculously tired. It hasn't even been a hard week, nor has it been a full week, but I feel as if I've been here dawn to midnight for months on end. Even though I want to be disciplined about getting work done, simply the fact that I go four mornings in a row without having to set an alarm is something to be truly thankful about. Those little pleasures, right? Sleep--and the satisfaction of clearing work off the desk (or living room table, as the case may be). Gratitude, gratitude.